About 45 residents of the Eighth District gathered in Mt. Airy last night to voice their concerns over the coming Democratic Primary Election for City Council May 17.
At the final NewsWorks.org Eyes on the Eighth forum, held at the Commodore Barry Club, attendees broke up into three groups to discuss their opinions of the candidates and the issues concerning the district. They then moved into smaller groups to come up with questions that candidates will answer at the Eyes on the Eighth debate on April 27 at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown at 7 p.m.
Voter excitement in Mt. Airy
The previous two voter forums had a large number of Germantown residents, but this event brought more people from Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Logan and Olney, which didn’t go unnoticed by candidate Robin Tasco, who was there to observe the event. She said the format remained the same but new voices were present.
Wayne Allen, a block captain in Germantown, came to represent his neighborhood.
Allen learned that abandoned houses and cars, littering and community development were issues affecting other attendees in his group. He was hopeful about the increase of participation from the voters, he said.
“The candidates [will] get true questions and take a lot of our concerns and issues into consideration,” Allen said. “It won’t be business as usual.”
Listening to the voices
For candidate Greg Paulmier, who also came to watch, this discussion is what has been lacking in City Council. As a member of Council, he said, he would be willing to be directed by the people.
In his group, resident Bob Rossman of Chestnut Hill, talked about Paulmier, a developer by profession, and his ability to fix abandoned homes.
Rossman, the board president of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northwest Philadelphia, said there are many properties he has found that are owned by the Redevelopment Authority that could be rehabbed for the families the Hospitality Network supports. But the organization isn’t able to get the properties, he said.
Since the candidates weren’t allowed to participate, they floated from group to group taking in what was being said. Often it was about them.
Howard Treatman, another candidate for the Eighth, has noticed that since the first forum, he has become more recognizable. But mostly, he was impressed with the commitment of the participants and their work forming shared priorities and questions to shape the coming debate, he said.
Forming good questions
For Ross Hennesy, a resident of Germantown, one of those questions was about transportation infrastructure and tying Northwest Philadelphia to Center City more efficiently.
Hennesy bikes between Germantown and Temple University. He thinks the Eighth District, other districts, SEPTA and the Bicycle Coalition should partner to figure out how to make the best use of Broad Street, he said.
“How would you encourage pedestrian, bike and transit infrastructure in the district?” he wrote as a suggested question for the debate.
His group also mentioned that the council person needs to have an office in the neighborhood with staff that is available for residents. It was a suggestion that came up in each of the previous voter forums. Eighth District incumbent City Councilwoman, Donna Reed Miller, who will retire at the end of this year to vacate the seat, has not maintained an office locally for many years.
These discussions emphasized many of the problem issues candidate Andrew Lofton believes exist in the community, such as improving education and schools, which was a topic common to the three breakout groups at the Mt. Airy forum, and a concern at each of the other forums too.
Glimpsing new possibilities for tough issues
Ken Schamberg, a resident of West Mt. Airy, made a list of all the issues he thought needed to be addressed. Among those were the thousands of dollars that were being spent on electricity at the Mt. Airy Playground because of the bright lights over the playing fields, and the waste of paper caused by the two water bills he (and presumably everyone else) gets from the Water Department each month.
But, as with Lofton, education and improving schools were his major issues, he said.
As an educator for almost 24 years, he believes that schools need to stop worrying about their images. For example, he said, schools are being pressured to cut down on suspension rates. Schamberg said that being tough on suspensions in the present means fewer suspensions in the future. He also had concerns about schools that may not be demanding enough from their special education students, he said.
While some of the concerns over education may be difficult for a city councilperson to influence, since the Philadelphia schools are controlled by the state appointed School Reform Commission, an independent body, his pet peeve about honest recycling at schools may be different. It could fall within the city’s vision for recycling.
Though there are recycling bins in schools, a number of schools he substitutes for do not really recycle, he said.
“They pretend that they are recycling,” Schamberg said. “At the end of the day, custodians dump everything in the same bag.”
It’s a concern that could affect the city’s compensation for recycling tonnage if schools are not keeping up with the city standards for collection, and it may be an example of how a prepared city councilperson can help community members start to make an impact with the right backing.
NewsWorks’ candidate debate will be April 27 at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, 35 West Chelten Ave. Come and bring another voter in the district. Co-sponsors for the Eyes on the Eighth series are: Committee of Seventy, the League of Women Voters, the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, G-town Radio and Germantown Community Connection.